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United States-India Defense Relations:


A Strategic Partnership for the 21st
Century
John Pedro

From Cornell International Affairs Review VOL. 9 NO. 1

By
Cornell International Affairs Review
2016, Vol. 9 No. 1 | pg. 1/2 |

Starting with a high profile push through the region in 2011, the
Obama Administration has made the "Pivot to Asia" a central part of
American foreign policy. Enlisting regional partners who share
strategic interests will be critical to ensuring the success of such
efforts, which will be discussed below. U.S.India relations have
flourished since 2001, and a series of initiatives and expanding
agreements, such as the Defense Trade and Technology Initiative
(DTTI), have formalized the two countries' military relations to a
degree previously unseen.
The uptick in U.S.-India cooperation originated late in the Clinton
administration, was carried through the Bush Administration, and
has been continued by the Obama Administration's pivot to Asia
and recent renewal of the mutual defense framework. I argue that

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although past relations have been tumultuous, collaboration will


continue to grow in the future as a result of converging interests
and strategic necessities. India is rapidly growing in influence and
power; with 1.3 million active personnel, it is the world's third largest
military, and with 1.2 billion people, its largest democracy.1 In an
increasingly complex world characterized by war, uncertainty, and
clashing interests, the history and future of this bilateral relationship
is critical to understanding the prospects for U.S. influence and
power in the Asia-Pacific region.
In the aftermath of World War II (WWII), U.S relations with newly
independent India were typically characterized by indifference.
Starting with their first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, India
practiced nonalignment in foreign policy.2 This strategy revolved
around foregoing formal alliances and focusing instead on asserting
independence on the world stage. The overarching goal of India's
defense policy was self-reliance, seen in the creation of the
Defense Research and Development Organization in 1958, which
sought to advance India's understanding of military technology and
properly equip their armed forces.3 From independence to the mid
1960s India focused on self-sufficiency, from the mid 1960s to the
late 1980s they finally realized greater self-reliance, and since the
1980s they have focused on coproduction and modernization.4
Over these three stages, relations with the United States have
shifted along with India's interests and capabilities. The relationship
has evolved from one of relative indifference, to one of occasional
annoyance, to a cooperative, exercise-based partnership; India
now performs more military exercises with the United States than
with any other nation.5 This evolution was not inevitable, but its
occurrence is a boon for both India and the United States.

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With its manufacturing of weaponyry during WWII, the modern


militarization of India began.6 Post-independence, India began
establishing technology for transport vehicles and trainer aircrafts,
the building blocks for future technology.7 As India grew on the
world stage and perceived a threat from a rising communist China,
they were forced to bolster their military capabilities through foreign
acquisitions. These included buying jeeps from Japan, trucks from
West Germany, and tanks from Britain.8 Notably, these acquisitions
did not involve the United States.
India was displeased in 1948 when the United States imposed an
arms embargo during the first Indian-Pakistani (Indo-Pak) war over
Kashmir, although the embargo was placed on both countries.9 Yet
India's actions have also angered the United States, especially their
refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of
1968.10 Differences over nuclear policy have been one of the main
inhibitors of successful U.S.-India defense relations over the last 40
years.11 U.S.-India relations were significantly harmed by India's
nuclear test at Pokhran in 1974, and moreover when India bitterly
opposed the U.S. supported permanent extension of the NPT in
1995.12
During the Cold War the United States was continually frustrated by
India's adherence to nonalignment, seemingly in contradiction with
their reliance on the procurement of Soviet equipment and arms,
such as MiG fighter aircraft.13 It often appeared that Pakistan and
India were regional proxies of the United States and Soviet Union,
respectively, yet this development was not significant enough to
create lasting damage to U.S.-India relations. A recent change in
nuclear policy is encouraging; the United States-India Nuclear
Cooperation Approval and Nonproliferation Enhancement Act was

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finalized in 2008.14 This accord has been instrumental in nurturing


closer political relations, which serve as the backbone of current
and future defense cooperation.
As the Cold War wound down, U.S.India relations gradually
improved. India participated in small-scale arms trade with the
United States from 1986-1988.15 They also provided military
logistical support for the 1990 Gulf War.16 The Indo-U.S. Steering
Committee of the two Navies was formed to resume naval
exercises in 1992, leading to the restart of the annual Malabar
naval exercise that same year.17 Malabar focuses on anti-piracy
measures, rescue operations, and counter-narcotics training,
among other objectives. Naval-military relations are the most
prominent aspect of U.S.-India defense relations.18 Naval
capabilities, fundamental to power projection in the pacific, will
continue to be a critical component of the U.S.-India relationship.
In January 1995 the United States and India signed the Agreed
Minute on Defense Relations, providing for military-to-military
exercises between the countries. This agreement was an important
step leading to the signing of the so-called "Vision Document" in
2000, which provided a roadmap for future relations.19 Also that
year, Bill Clinton became the first U.S. President to visit India in 22
years.20 After the attacks of September 11th India escorted U.S.
ships through the Strait of Malacca and launched Operation
SAGITTARIUS, providing escorts to U.S. ships in the Indian Ocean.
This strategic move helped relieve the regional security burden on
the U.S. Navy and thus facilitated operations in Afghanistan.21
Moreover, India offered its bases to help in the invasion of
Afghanistan.22 This is a prime example of the converging strategic
interests that are driving advancements in U.S-India defense

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relations. These developments led to what is today a budding


strategic partnership for the 21st century.
Differences over nuclear policy have been one of the main
inhibitors of successful U.S.-India defense relations over the last 40
years.
Although past disagreements indicate India is far from being in
lockstep with the United States, the 21st century has seen a
coalescence of American and Indian interests around several policy
issues. Common interests will foster closer relations and greater
collaboration. With China rising, Japan flexing its muscles, and
considerable regional economic development continuing, the
United States will need to make concerted efforts and find reliable
partners to maintain a balance of power, ensure peace and security,
and retain the ability to influence regional events. With its shared
interests, India will be a close partner in this venture.
Common interests will foster closer relations and greater
collaboration... the United States will need to make concerted
efforts and find reliable partners to maintain a balance of power,
ensure peace and security, and retain the ability to influence
regional events.
Defense relations between the United States and India had been
on the upswing since 2001,23 and their successful military
cooperation in the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004
solidified the basis of their promising regional partnership.24 The
United States provided aid and conducted joint rescue operations
with the Indian Navy. A 2002 Department of Defense released a
report in which it concluded that it was clearly in the interests of the

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U.S. to pursue a strategic partnership with India.25 The primary


drivers of this relatively new relationship are enhanced acquisition
activity and an alignment of naval interests around issues such as
anti-piracy and counternarcotics. In the 2006 Maritime Security
Cooperation Agreement, the United States and India outlined
collaboration in promoting the free passage of goods around the
world and cracking down on the illicit trafficking of weapons.26
Additionally, this agreement produced an increase in intelligence
and counterterrorism cooperation.27
The primary drivers of this relatively new relationship are enhanced
acquisition activity and an alignment of naval interests around
issues such as anti-piracy and counter-narcotics.
Military acquisitions are an indispensable area of U.S.-India
cooperation with the potential to greatly expand in the future. India
purchased more conventional weapons than any other developing
country in the period from 19922004.28 April 17, 2002 marks the
first major weapons deal between the two countries, consisting of
12 radar sets, a remarkable strategic development considering
Indian procurement reliance on the Soviets during the Cold War.29
Defense trade has increased since, but often with ambivalence
from U.S. lawmakers; because India refuses to sign a formal
defense accord, the United States cannot share certain classified
defense technologies The Communications and Information
Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and the Logistics
Support Agreement (LSA) are two formal defense accords.30 These
agreements establish protocols for the sharing of military
technology; certain sensitive technology and advanced weaponry
can only be sold to countries that have signed one or both
agreements.31 As defense relations have warmed, India's refusal to

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sign has become a sticking point.

Developing U.S.-India Air Force cooperation opened the


opportunity for the Indian Air Force to purchase technology from the
United States, including C-130J Hercules aircraft, pictured below.
In 2005, India and the United States signed a ten-year defense
framework in which they committed to increasing defense trade, the
transfer of technology, and counterterrorism collaboration.32 The
2005 framework was followed in 2006 by an agreement on
cooperation in science exchange and development to foster
co-production of defense technology. The United States also
offered India the ability to purchase F-16 and F-18 fighter aircraft.33
These platforms are among the most sophisticated in the world.
However, a potential 8.5 billion dollar Indian procurement of U.S.
fighters fell through, and India shifted focus to European options.34
Despite this, acquisitions have boomed: defense sales to India
went from zero dollars in 2008 to over 9 billion dollars in 2014.35 As
a result, the United States surpassed Russia as the biggest
supplier of arms and military equipment to India. Despite the fighter
deal falling through and minor scuttles over technology, India has
generally looked to the United States for military procurements over
the past decade, leading to a 13 billion dollar backlog of Indian
defense procurements.36 Bureaucrats in both countries are still

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working out the details of Indian acquisitions that amount to over 13


billion dollars of arms, systems, and technology. This acquisition
activity, absent in the past, will be a central driver of closer
U.S.-India relations in the future.
Despite the fighter deal falling through and minor scuttles over
technology, India has generally looked to the United States for
military procurements over the past decade... bureaucrats in both
countries are still working out the details of Indian acquisitions.
U.S.India Air Force cooperation is also rapidly expanding.
Participation in the annual Cope India air-based exercises
eventually led India to purchase six C-130J Hercules aircraft and
related equipment and services for over 1 billion dollars.37 This was
followed up by a 2.1 billion dollar acquisition of eight P-81 maritime
surveillance aircraft from Boeing in 2009.38 And in 2010, India
purchased ten C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft, a sale approved
in 2011 for 4.1 billion dollars.39 India's most recent defense
purchase, pending approval by India's Cabinet Committee on
Security, includes 22 AH-64E Apache and 15 CH-47F Chinook
helicopters from Boeing totaling over 2.5 billion dollars.40 All of
these purchases reflect India's efforts to bolster their strategic
proficiencies in the region the P-81 maritime surveillance aircraft
will augment antipiracy measures, the C-17 is an excellent aircraft
for strategic airlift and airdrop missions, and the helicopters serve
as vital transport for special operations missions and provide
tactical flexibility. All of these acquisitions demonstrate India's
desire to step into their growing role in the region.
The Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) grew out of
meetings between senior officials about fostering co-production and

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transfers of defense technology. The idea behind DTTI is to develop


military capabilities for both countries to use.41 Current plans
include building a mobile solar power source for use in remote
areas and creating a lightweight chemical and biological protective
suit for hazardous environments.42 India's Defense Research and
Development Organization and the United States' Pentagon
Research Labs will oversee these projects.43 Before, U.S.
Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has stated that the DTTI must
overcome "the historical burden of bureaucracy,"44 a burden seen
in the 13 billion dollar acquisition backlog. The DTTI is the
centerpiece of the newly signed ten-year defense framework
between the countries, and through it, the United States and Indea
seek to change their defense relations from a buyer-seller
relationship to one based on joint technological development.45
Because India will have a greater investment in the relationship, it
is possible this could lead to clashes over events in the region or
the strategic direction of cooperative efforts. Yet with similar policy
interests, a U.S.-India clash remains unlikely.
Military to military exercises now constitute the most tangible
aspect of U.S-India defense relations. As some analysts have
suggested, the U.S.-India defense relationship can be
characterized as an "exercise-based relationship."46 In addition to
Malabar, the U.S. and Indian Navies now take part in three other
annual exercises together.47 Areas of focus in naval exercises
include anti-sub warfare, counter piracy, and disaster response.48
In addition to this close working relationship, India has begun to
exercise maritime leadership apart from the United States, as seen
in the creation of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium in 2008. The
Symposium seeks to bring together the heads of the Indian Ocean
Navies for information exchange.49 Exercises between Air Forces

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began in 2002, and were followed by U.S.-India Army exercises in


2004.50 In contrast with the global reach and presence of the
United States Air Force, the Indian Air Force typically has a limited,
regional focus.51
As a result, air exercises typically concentrate on India's regional
security. Other air-based projects include publicprivate
partnerships. For example, Boeing now works with India to
co-develop software for navigation systems, landing gear, and
cockpit controls.52 The countries recently began partaking in
combined Special Forces training in addition to conventional
military exercises.53 India and the United States have also formed
various groups and projects to foster a greater working relationship.
These include the U.S.-India Defense Policy Group, which since its
revival in 2001 meets annually, and the U.S.-India Cyber Security
Forum which was launched in 2002.54 U.S.India cooperation has
also extended to humanitarian efforts such as recovering the
remains of WWII soldiers previously lost on the subcontinent. All of
these developments are signs of a budding strategic relationship.
Differences over nuclear policy and weapons have long been the
greatest source of strain between India and the United States, but
the Bush Administration's 2006 nuclear deal successfully turned the
page. The deal distinguished between India's civil nuclear facilities,
which were put under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
inspections, and their military facilities. Because it recognized and
allowed India to use nuclear energy for military purposes, the deal
was criticized as undermining the NPT, which India has never
signed.55
However, 65% of India's nuclear generating power is under

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international guidelines, and analysts have shown that India's use


of military-specific nuclear technology will be primarily for
submarines, not more warheads.56 That being said, India's nuclear
arsenal sits between 60-100 warheads.57 The United States'
legitimizing of India as a nuclear power, though criticized
domestically, was a strategic move that significantly and positively
affected relations with India over the last decade.Continued on Next
Page
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